On March 28th, seven young people were murdered in the state of Morelos, Mexico. The victims intervened upon seeing a woman harassed in a bar by a group of men. They were later found dead, in a car. A note by the bodies pointed, once again, to cartel killings.
MEXICO. – Just seven more added to the count of the 38,000 victims of President Felipe Calderon’s catastrophic “War on Narcos” (drug-traffickers). Despite 23 million pesos (£1.3 million pounds) being offered for information leading to the arrest of the killers, thus far no arrests have been made.
Something in the Mexican people has snapped. Chants of “No more blood!” rang through the streets of Cuernavaca, Morelos as 40,000 people – notably, very close to the number of homicides in the drug war so far – took to the streets, demanding freedom and peace. The movement spearheaded by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son Juan Francisco was among the victims, the 6th April saw a march of 40,000 students, housewives, parents, senior citizens and even a man on stilts dressed as an angel of death, to demand back their freedom.
Sicilia, who spent hours protesting in the Zocalo of Cuernavaca, blamed not just the “subhuman, demonic and imbecilic” criminal gangs, but the Mexican politicians such as Governor Marco Adame for “playing dumb” with regards to security. His open letter to the politicians and criminals denounced the “violence, loss of honour, cruelty and senselessness” of Mexico’s organized crime and demanded they “give the nation back its dignity”.
My return to Mexico to see this all first-hand was a shock no amount of tequila could numb. Having lived in Cuernavaca for two years, to return after a year and a half to this seemingly peaceful and lighthearted city to find its people dead in the streets, imprisoned in their houses at the mercy of the narcos, I’m baffled as to how it all happened so quickly.
I was there during the swine flu outbreak, and while I don’t know anyone who knows anyone afflicted by swine flu in Mexico, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen first-hand the work of the narcos. Four headless, naked corpses ankle-strung from the bridge we passed under to go to the cinema. My friend’s language school in dire straits, after news of an attack in a bar on a Danish student spread to Europe.
Who can blame them? If I was hit in the face with a pistol while people looked on, too afraid to speak up and calling the police a laughable resort, I would probably go to Barcelona instead, too.
The people of Mexico are now “hasta la madre” – sick of it. The universal belief is that government officials have been “bought” by the narcos and that the so-called war on drug trafficking is a fabrication. The Mexicans do not believe their security is protected by their government, but traded for money and power.
While Mexican and US officials claim the pace of killings has declined and that more than half of the 37 most wanted crime bosses announced in 2010 have been either captured or killed, the Mexican people remain unconvinced. A poll released in January revealed that 70% of the Mexican people believed security to have worsened in the last 2 years. Having myself left in 2009 and returned in 2011, I have to agree.
The difference is stark, shocking, and in front of our very eyes. In fact, the death of a crime boss is the very thing that sparked the turf war. The death of Arturo Beltran Leyva, the big boss of the Beltran Leyva cartel, led to a head-to-head between Edgar Valdez (or ‘Barbie’ as he is known, for his blonde hair) and Hector Beltran Leyva (the former leader’s brother) for the cartel top spot.
Hector masterminded the shocking spectacle of the stringing up of four headless corpses from the Southern Cuernavaca bridge, intimating that supporters of Edgar Valdez would suffer the same fate. It is hardly surprising, then, that the capture and killing of crime bosses hardly makes the streets of Mexico seem to its people a safe place to stroll.
“La Marcha Nacional por la Justicia y la Paz”
The National March for Justice and Peace begins with the hanging of signs and the setting up of a stage. I am lucky enough to be given an interview with Santos Armando, political activist and performer at the protest. I ask him how the country and state we love had fallen so spectacularly to pieces.
“It happened so fast” he said, “our governors have always been bought and controlled by the cartels…when the turf war started after the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva, the death toll just kept rising. There were 335 deaths in less than a year in just one tiny area of the city – the autopista.”
“Are these innocent people”, I ask, “or is it really just narcos killing narcos, as they’ve been saying?”
“No”, he replies, “it’s innocent people.”
When asked how the people of Morelos are feeling, he does not hesitate, “There is more fear. We can’t even trust the police – I was attacked, and half an hour later there was a shoot-out two streets away from where they attacked me. I could have told the police but they wouldn’t have done anything, and they’d have my details and know where I lived and I’m afraid of that.
The problem is that the police force is so damaged…the cartels have so much power, they pay their friends in the police force more than their salary in return for protection. The police have this impunity as well – they can kill someone and every time they say ‘the narcos did it’.”
This bleak story starts to seem stark in comparison to the music from the stage, the backdrop to this heart-wrenching state of affairs. Why the music? “It’s part of our culture…music helps us support each other, it’s a form of expression. It’s so important…to maintain our happiness and soul in the worst moments.”
And so they do; the march went on into the night and the Zocalo remains occupied by people in tents “I’m staying here, because I’ve had it up to here”.
Sicilia has also called for a second national protest march on May 7th of around 87 kilometres, from downtown Cuernavaca – the battleground for the turf war – to the Zocalo of Mexico City. “In defense of public dignity,” Sicilia told Excelsiór, “we demand that Marco Antonio Adame, Miguel Ángel Rabadán [mayor of Jiutepec], Nereo Bandera Zavaleta [mayor of Temixco] and several other congressmen… immediately resign from office.”
But it is believed the ears of officials are deaf, stuffed with drug money, as despite this call for justice thus far there have been no resignations from officials, no arrests made for the murders of the seven victims, no apology for the loss of those who “served the country that you have all shamed” or the “badly handled” war, and no response at all to Sicilia’s open letter, “We have had it up to here because the only thing that matters to you, beyond an impotent power that only serves to administrate disgrace, is money”.
Javier Sicilia’s open letter to the criminals and politicians can be viewed here:
Spanish versión of the open letter: http://contracorrientemx.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/javier-sicilia-carta-abierta-a-politicos-y-criminales/